Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Tom Cruise, Ashley Judd and a host of other celebrities and have-yachts have already discovered Croatia, and this “untouched” Mediterranean destination has been acquiring a distinctly Riviera flavour recently.
Last year, Lonely Planet ranked Istria among the best travel destinations of 2011 but it wasn’t long ago that Croatia was primarily a destination for the pioneering few looking for somewhere new to explore, or moor their luxury yachts.
Today, the country’s beautiful shores, lush natural scenery, Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels are all reasons why the country is now one of the fastest rising holiday spots in Europe – and it will definitely be one to watch in 2013 when it becomes a full EU member.
New Flight Routes for 2012
This year there are more flights than ever from the UK, making it even easier for Britons to discover Croatia’s unique Mediterranean flavour. Dubbed “the Med as it once was”, things are changing however, as resort developers, investors and the national tourist board are looking to promote the country as a lifestyle destination ready to compete with its better-known Mediterranean neighbours.
The country’s stunning coastline will already be familiar to fans of overseas property TV programmes and Croatia is no longer a whispered secret among the yacht crowd who have been drawn to her shores for years by her intoxicating combination of lush virgin scenery and lack of mass tourism.
Currently, tourism accounts for 13% of the country’s gross domestic product and according to the World Economic Forum’s “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report” Croatia already ranks 34th out of 139 international destinations.
Airlines that fly from the UK include:
Monarch, which operates services from London Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester to Dubrovnick.
Jet2.com, which flies from Manchester to Pula and Newcastle to Dubrovnik.
Ryanair has announced a new route from the East Midlands to Zadar for July and August, in addition to its current schedules and routes.
BMIbaby flies from the East Midlands to Dubrovnik.
Thomsonfly services the Gatwick-Pula route.
EasyJet commences its high season schedules earlier this year with London Gatwick and London Stansted to Split and Dubrovnik.
British Airways operates a Gatwick – Dubrovnik service departing four times a week which will increase to daily flights from 26 March while Croatia Airlines flies from Gatwick and Heathrow to Zagreb up to three times weekly. To accommodate the increase in overall flight traffic, plans are already in place to expand Zagreb Airport by 2015.
Leading hotel group Melia Hotels International is one of the most active brands in the country, with a total of twenty properties in the region. Croatia overall has approximately 159 main hotels but there is still huge potential for expansion as hotel nights represent a very low percentage of tourist stays – much of the country’s accommodation still tends to be in private rooms or camping sites along the Adriatic coastline. (For more information about Melia Hotels International and the group’s vacation ownership brand Club Melia please visit www.melia.com and www.clubmelia.com.)
Although the dominant tourism product in Croatia is ‘sun and sea’, other products are under development, particularly gastronomic and rural tourism. New developments – including yacht marinas on Croatia’s picturesque islands and mixed-use resorts – are magnets for investors due to the fact that both development models usually assure sound returns on investment.
Another major hotel group, Hilton (which also runs a successful vacation ownership division, Hilton Grand Vacations Club www.higvc.co.uk) is showing increasing interest in Croatia; latest additions include the Hilton hotel in Split and Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Zagreb.
Just like other destinations in the Mediterranean, Croatia’s tourism tends to be very seasonal, with almost 90% of hotel nights booked during the months of June to September.
Croatia’s proposed entry into the EU as a full member next year should boost the country’s tourism prospects even more, and airlines are already gearing up for a heavier influx of tourists. Meanwhile, the country’s ongoing popularity as a second home hotspot looks set to continue, which will also increase the demand for a broader flight network.
Although the country has enforced strict regulations along coastal zones to curb over-development, recent changes and looser restrictions will offer more opportunities for building mixed-use resorts along the Adriatic Coast, something which is already attracting new developers.
Croatia’s famous coastline
Croatia has almost 6,000 kilometres of undulating coastline and 1,185 neighbouring islands, although only fifty or so are actually populated. The largest is Krk, near Rijeka, while the queen of the islands is sun-soaked Hvar which enjoys more total hours of sunshine a year than any other island in the Adriatic. For more information visitwww.tzhvar.hr/en
Summer is the most popular time to visit but it can get busy in some of the main tourist spots such as Dubrovnik. Late spring and early autumn, which are considerably quieter, are ideal times to explore Croatia’s unique coastline and very special natural beauty.